Issuu on Google+


The successful 21st-century library creates an inviting space for students

The Evolving Library:



digital supplement 


spring 2011


ver the last decade, a fundamental shift has occurred in how students perceive and utilize libraries. No longer seen as traditional book warehouses, libraries are now collaborative environments where individuals and groups converge to study, socialize, and gain access to resources. The library was once a place to find and check out books. But today, the library is a center of interactive learning. Ask today’s students what they do in the library and their answers will vary greatly. Some are looking for a quiet refuge in which to concentrate, while others need a place for peer-group work. Some come to browse through reference books, while others want to plug in their laptops and access online resources. Some just need a place to touch down between classes, while others need to print materials before a lecture. The evolving role of the library also has a profound effect on the role of the librarian. No longer viewed as administrators of books, librarians are expected to be content experts, IT service providers, collaborators with students, and educators. “Libraries need to break out of the atmosphere of tradition,” says Lee Van Orsdel, dean of university libraries at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. “We need to rethink our whole attitude about the relationship between students and space, furniture and information, and redefine what a library should be.” To learn more about this evolution, a research team at Steelcase—a leader in creating higher education environments—conducted a six-month study at 13 libraries on private and public college and university campuses across the United States. Results indicate that libraries need a makeover if they are to meet the needs of 21st-century work styles and technologies. After speaking with students, librarians, and professors and conducting student focus groups, the research team spent two months synthesizing the research into design principles and developing concepts. In spring 2010, the concepts were prototyped at GVSU. The team built working prototypes in the university’s current library space, installed video cameras, and recorded the activities/ behaviors around these environments for two weeks. The data collected from the prototyping not only validated the concepts but also influenced the design of GVSU’s new library. The following library-design principles emerged from the study:

+Library spaces must +Support the foster social learning librarian’s evolving role The library should support student collaboration and group work, the dominant instruction and learning style today. By providing a group space with mobile tables, mobile chairs, or portable whiteboards, libraries can better facilitate teamwork. For greater technology integration and collaborative learning, a “media:scape” setting can allow students to plug in laptops and simply press a button to share, show, and co-create information on two integrated flat screens.

The traditional reference desk does not help librarians explain the search process to students because the desk is not designed for teaching or guiding students through a reference search. In the study, librarians at the reference desk were observed twisting their computer screen toward students, trying to get them involved in the process. In the words of one librarian, “I want to get a rotating keyboard tray or something so that there’s a keyboard on the other side too. We could give them control and say, ‘Show me the search you did.’” Redesign incorporating shared screens allows students to see the content on the monitor and be part of the search process so they learn how to conduct future searches rather than being passive participants.

Redesign Supports New Teaching, Learning Styles

by Elise Valoe

Students working in traditional library configurations don’t like having their backs to hallways and having their screens open to anyone who walks by. According to Tod Stevens, a partner at SHW Group (an architectural and engineering firm specializing in educational environments), “When the library put workspaces near the windows and in other attractive spaces that used to be taken up by shelves of books, the gate count went way up.”

+Improve awareness of and access to library resources Libraries can be intimidating to first- and second-year students, according to Stevens. As college libraries offer more services and spaces for students, it’s essential that they clearly communicate the availability of those resources. Visual displays, clear paths to customer support, and welcoming spaces help students understand and fully use library services.

spring 2011

+Provide for individual comfort, concentration, and security


Group work areas are often located near individual spaces for quiet study. This arrangement frustrates quiet-seeking students, while student teams lack the right space and tools for effective collaboration. Instead, locate dedicated spaces for both individual and teamwork in a range of settings across the library. Planning for technology is also critical, as students increasingly rely on—and carry with them—a host of electronic devices, including laptops, netbooks, iPads, Kindles, and more.

possibilities of the modern library by providing an environment that supports the needs of the 21st-century student.  z ELISE VALOE, senior design researcher for Steelcase WorkSpace Futures, is responsible for research studies in the education market.


With the proliferation of printed books and growing collections, the library became a book and information warehouse. Today, much information is digital, portable, and accessible everywhere. It has changed the way we learn and interact. As a result, the library is not just for reading and research. It’s now the site of varied social activities: teaching, mentoring, and collaborative learning. By taking note of the evolving role of the library, administrators, designers, and educators will be able to deliver the full 


The library is a campus center for social and educational activity and should be designed to support interactions between students, faculty, and staff that otherwise might not happen in a classroom, residence hall, or coffee shop. Students are drawn to natural light, a feeling of community, and a variety of group and solo workspaces. All are naturals for the library.

+Plan for adjacencies

digital supplement 

+Optimize the performance of informal spaces

Library Design